Help, Help, I Can’t Be Published!

I don’t actually expect sense from David Brooks, but this particular tweet, to entice people into a column whining about the current state of discourse, was especially eye rolling to me:

So, let me break this down a bit.

First, as I noted on Twitter, responding to this tweet: “Implying that ‘one of the great essayists in America’ wouldn’t be smart enough to read the commercial room, and say what he wanted to say in a way that sold to the market that exists today, is going the long way around to say you don’t think he was that great a writer, my dude.” Which is to say Brooks isn’t interested in considering what Christopher Hitchens might be doing and saying if he were alive at the moment; he’s only interested in Hitchens in stasis, preserved in amber since 2011.

If your argument is “A commercial writer couldn’t write to the current market if he was writing like he was two or three decades back,” then, well, yes, and also, this would likely be an accurate statement in whatever year you might want to place it. the 2020s are not the 00s, which were not the 80s which were not the 60s and so on. As the great moral philosopher Hillary Flammond once noted, times change, people change, hairstyles change. So do commercial markets, although some faster than others.

But “great” writers are often not known to be great merely because they write well; they’re known as great because they have some sense of the market and manage to keep getting published over a long enough period time that critics and/or sycophants decide to label them “great.” This usually means being smart enough to know what acquiring editors want, and also (to a lesser extent) knowing what the acquiring editor’s audience wants. To have a career over decades, you probably have to adapt over time to new venues, new editors and new audiences. If you don’t… well, I hope you have a day job.

I was a reader of Christopher Hitchens; he wasn’t entirely editorially inflexible, and he didn’t exactly lack a willingness to go where the money was. I pretty strongly suspect that in the year 2020, Hitchens would have found a way to cast his thoughts in a manner that would be appealing to the market now. Either Brooks doesn’t understand that about Hitchens, or he thinks his readers don’t understand it, so he’s either a fool or a cynic (or both! It could be both!). Either way, he’s probably wrong.

Second, even if Hitchens had not progressed rhetorically since 2011, he’d still be perfectly employable, because — surprise! — the market is actually pretty vast, and there are certainly outlets that very profitably cater to the sort of audience who likes to wring its hands about “cancel culture,” and related nonsenseries, a concept that those very outlets have created in order to give their audiences that anxious “we’re under attack” feeling they apparently desperately crave. I mean, shit, David Brooks is still employed, for some unfathomable reason, and as far as I can tell he hasn’t switched up his particular bag of tricks since the Times hired him in 2003. David Brooks’ continued employment at the New York Times, the most establishment of publications, is its own best argument for why David Brooks’ assertion is complete horsepucky.

(Brooks then goes on to point out that so many of the writers he’s fretting about are now profitably self-publishing in any event, via Substack or other venues, which, I mean, good for them? Is this not the very embodiment of “get your own damn publishing press”? What is actually the problem here?)

I find the “[insert famous, now dead writer here] couldn’t be employed/published today” trope embarrassingly lazy in the best of times. It’s never true, to begin; in the world of books alone, publishers crank out hundreds of thousands of books annually, and self-publishing authors crank out hundreds of thousands more. You can write anything you want and set it out into the world.

It is true, for living authors, that certain publishers may decide they don’t want your book, for whatever reason; welcome to the world of publishing. Equally true, publishers may decide not to publish you for your politics or personal behavior; again, welcome to the world of publishing.

The good news is, there is often a publisher who will be just fine with your politics or personal behavior! Often run by the same overarching publishing conglomerate! In the last year we’ve seen some high profile book titles dropped by one publisher snapped up by another; this is not a new phenomenon. Or self-publish; it’s easy enough to do via ebook and print-on-demand, and you can even do presales via Kickstarter or some other venue. The point is, in fact, almost anyone can be published today.

What is not guaranteed is that everyone is published with the same status and stature as they might have had in years past, or that what they publish will be accepted with a minimum of criticism. But this is not exactly a new phenomenon either, is it? Careers go up, careers go down; people fall out of fashion and then have a resurgence, or not; others plug away for decades and never break into the common consciousness; people whose work was critically acclaimed stop being reviewed; people’s political views stop being mainstream, or they stop having mainstream views and move to the fringe, and their common appeal suffers. Yes, social media has decentralized some aspects of this process; the process itself is as old as the hills.

Ultimately David Brooks’ tweet and column are just the plaintive whine of someone comfortable with things as they were: Why couldn’t they have stayed that way? The answer is not all that surprising: Because they weren’t ever that way for long, you just came up in a moment. And now that moment’s over. Get on with it, or it will get over you.

And when it does, don’t worry: there’s always a Substack newsletter waiting.

57 Comments on “Help, Help, I Can’t Be Published!”

  1. Haven’t you just defined conservative when you wrote, “ Ultimately David Brooks’ tweet and column are just the plaintive whine of someone comfortable with things as they were”? It would have been perfect if instead of “as they were” you had written, “as they remembered them”?

    The 50s were great—if you were of the right race, politics, and location. Not so much for others. Compared to the 🍊💩, “W” was a prince. Oh, for the good old days of 2002!

  2. This is the quintessence of privilege, isn’t it? The assumption that you and those you agree with never need to change or adjust; it is always the Other, the (tacitly understood to be) Lesser, who must adjust to What Is And Therefore Must Always Be (lest civilization perish).

  3. Well laid out. Personally, when I am forced to contemplate David F. Brooks’s continued employment, I just remind myself that at best he’s tedious, and then go on with things. At least I’m not him. God works in mysterious ways, etc. So does the Eventheliberal NYT.
    And, to make this more useful, I like the new format (it _is_ the new format, right? I have to admit that my wife is (as usual) right about me not noticing things around me other than spiders and birds) and am not having any trouble with it.

  4. If William Shakespeare were (through time travelers or necromancy or some such) alive today, I suspect Shakespeare fans would be rather disappointed, since Willy (a very smart man) would before long be writing for a much larger paying audience than just people who are really into his pre-1616 work.

  5. To quote Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor:

    “Times change. And so must I.”

    I would imagine that most professional writers who’ve done it for a long time can track a change in style that goes with the times and movement. And many who cringe at things they wrote many years ago.

    Hell, I bet even Lovecraft could find a publisher, even with his overtly racist writing.

  6. Do you think David Brooks is entirely employed based on Hate Reads (and attendant publicity), or do people who buy the NYTimes actually like his work? Or is it just a stupid decision on the part of the NYTimes?

  7. I have been blunt enough, perhaps a bit on the mean side, to characterize this as “Those young people are changing the world around, and they *didn’t ask my permission!*” when an older person does this. Yes, I know Brooks isn’t all that old, but the principle is the same. I ought to be used to it by now, what with the past several years, but this especially annoys me when it’s within the science fiction community. You don’t like the future because it’s too future-y, you want the future the classic writers promised you in 1950? Did you read the sign on the door when you came in?

  8. Nicoleandmaggie, I suspect the answers are “Yes”, “Yes” and “Yes but probably not”.

  9. I feel like this happens in all areas, not just writing. In technology (where I work), if you don’t stay up to date, you fall behind and eventually become irrelevant. Sure, you could get a job maintaining a site that suits your older skills, the people hiring for old skills tend to be a smaller group, but someone, somewhere needs someone to manage their old systems.
    As a thought experiment, would Hitchens have updated some of his thinking to remain a prominent writer, or would he have stuck to what sold previously? There’s plenty of writers that write the same story over and over again. You can see them on grocery store shelves. Great writers evolve with the rest of the culture.

  10. Here are the current Amazon rankings for the Kindle version of one of Hitchens’ most popular books, “God is not Great:”
    #41,417 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
    #8 in Religious Studies – Philosophy
    #8 in Atheism (Kindle Store)
    #3 in Rationalism Philosophy
    Not bad for someone who is unemployable.

  11. I was thinking about something similar after watching the movie Yesterday (guy wakes up and finds out the Beatles never existed, he sings their songs as his). If the Beatles started out today, would they get famous? Not if they started with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and that stuff. It would play as niche nostalgia. But they wouldn’t be playing that – they’d be playing up to date fresh sounding music, because they are of their times.

  12. I just realized. The whole outraged shrieking, pearl-clutching, and flailing over “cancel culture” is basically “HOW DARE YOU BREAK UP WITH ME YOU ***ING BITCH NOBODY BREAKS UP WITH ME”.

    Clearly, there is something fundamentally wrong with the willingness of intelligent human beings to say “Nope” to things they don’t like, people they don’t like, and things made by people they don’t like. As far as I can tell, the crux here is that when a fed-up consumer breaks up with a horrible provider, they’re more likely to talk about it and less likely to slink away into the night.

  13. I’ve always thought Hitchens was mostly a propagandist. Selling a conservative view that he wished was true. Good comments, everybody.

  14. I don’t know that everything changes with the times – there are principles that we don’t expect to change (and that if they change will imperil us). I think (as someone said above) that privilege is taking your preferences as those kind of fundamental principles that can’t be changed – that everyone else needs to change to fit you. It then becomes a question of whether the principles you’re appealing to are principles and not preferences, where your consistency and honesty are important. If you aren’t consistent and honest, it’s likely that you aren’t operating on the basis of principle.

    Another aspect of privilege is that the consequences of actions that accrue to nonfavored people shouldn’t accrue to the holders of privilege – that they should get attention and credit but no criticism for what they say. Sometimes, criticism or response really is unfair – the list of times you should be unhireable or threatened for what you say ought to be really short, and calling people various names seems like proof of rhetorical and logical incompetence – but evidence that these threats actually exist to people who say things that get massively criticized doesn’t seem to be great. It looks more like the people citing “cancel culture” don’t want criticism of their speech than that they want to support the ability of others to speak, and that seems like its own imposition on free speech.

  15. I don’t know why they write “freethinkers” when they really mean “racists”. For a collective that likes to harp on others as being “snowflakes”, they sure are very fragile themselves once they THINK they’ve lost the upper hand.

    (And they haven’t! There’s a racist president! What else do they want? Some people are never happy.)

  16. Speech is sort of like apologies – you don’t get to make the other person accept your argument or opinion (or even to listen to you at all), and you don’t get immunity from criticism or evidence.

    If you’ve spent lots of time arguing in bad faith, then it’s likely that people won’t in fact accept your arguments or engage with you, and expecting people to do so – that you have a right to their attention – is yet another aspect of privilege. If you sell crap in the marketplace of ideas, people won’t buy from you. Brooks seems unhappy that people might actually have that choice.

  17. David Brooks is usually full of BS. Thank you for calling that out in detail.

  18. As an online NY Times subscriber, I must admit that I skip Brooks’s columns way more often than I read them (today’s example very much included). He’s tedious and pompous and very rarely has anything to say that I want to read (though my wife reminds me that we were both surprised a week or two ago to read one of his columns we both enjoyed and agreed with).

  19. The “cancel culture” shtick, including the Harper’s letter, makes a lot more sense if taken as people in positions of power feeling their power slipping away, and not happy about it. There have always been opinions held unsuitable for polite company. What is changing is what these opinions are and who gets to decide.

    As for Hitchens, I first became consciously aware of him upon reading a piece in, IIRC, Slate, probably in the late 1990s. It was something about ballistic missiles, with an idiot aside about how all missiles are ballistic. I noted that Hitchens was the author, and commented about this on usenet. I was assured that Hitchens was super-duper smart, far smarter than I could possibly be, so the aside must actually be super-duper smart as well. At that point I started paying attention and found that idiotic asides were a trademark of his. My favorite was discussing the Napoleonic Wars, with the aside about this being the first world war. He was misremembering. The observation is about the Seven Years War. I’m sure someone can come up with a very clever argument why the Seven Years War doesn’t count, while the Napoleonic Wars do. I am also sure it will be unconvincing. But Hitchens would toss off these remarks with the air of a man at a party, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in another, surrounded by a bevy of admirers hanging on his every word. feh.

  20. (That header font is….very 1970s, or maybe i mean 1960s.)

    My hot take on this earlier today, following a giant eye-roll, was that there is no shortage of publications that would be happy to publish/hire Christopher Hitchens. Thanks for the detailed analysis of why that is the case.

    Let me complain about the general quality of NY Times conservative op-ed writers these days: Bari Weiss, who took off while whining Boo-hoo, Bret (Bedbug) Stephens, who has a side hustle of complaining to the managers and employers of people who have the nerve to criticize him (i.e. he tries to cancel others’ jobs), David Brooks, who hasn’t had an original or interesting thought in an awfully long time, and Ross Douthat, who is far and away the sharpest writer and smartest person of them. Weiss and Stephens both came in with James Barnet, so maybe Stephens is on his way out.

  21. “Embarrassingly lazy” is David Brooks’s market niche. He’s not alone, though, because there are a lot of embarrasingly lazy readers happy to pay good money to be told that they are freethinkers.

  22. Not entirely on topic, but the American Treasure Charlie Pierce used to feature Brooks in articles with fair regularity, often accompanied by his Irish Setter, Moral Hazard, owned for photo-op purposes. Those articles would usually consist of Moral Hazard reflecting on the peculiarities of Master’s life. They were frankly hilarious.

  23. On point so much it’s super sharp. The Atlantic letter is the shrill complaints of people who made a living telling others what to think, being ignored. The wail of dinosaurs wandering a world no longer ideally suited to their lifestyle, as the birds take flight into the future.

  24. The question “Why did things have to change?” is the very basis for conservatism. That Brooks seems to be asking this question makes it… Tuesday? Saturday? Something else that ends in a “Why?”

    Sorry should have been “‘y'”. Starts with a “Why” ends with a “y”. Or something.

  25. As the great moral philosopher Hillary Flammond once noted, times change, people change, hairstyles change.

    Top Secret reference for the win!

  26. David Hajicek:

    I’m old enough to remember when Hitchens was a leftie. He was a brilliant polemicist then, and he remained one as he gradually became a reactionary.

    Brooks, on the other hand, has always been a bore and an intellectual lightweight. He skims a book, misses its major points, and writes a “think piece” based on his interpretation of what he’s hoovered up. Bill Safire at least had style, and Bill Kristol had the virtue of being totally wrong about everything; you could use him as a guide by doing the opposite of whatever he said. Brooks is a waste of space.

  27. I consider great writers to be those who anticipate a market. I haven’t yet seen a conservative writer that really does that.

  28. “This usually means being smart enough to know what acquiring editors want, and also (to a lesser extent) knowing what the acquiring editor’s audience wants.”

    I’d argue that this applies to a certain John Scalzi! Does that make him a “great” writer? We’ll see!

  29. Friends don’t let friends read David Brooks.

    As a corollary, good night, sleep tight, don’t let the Bretbug write.

  30. There’s a couple of right wing writers at the post who are both screechy and boring, and only there to sell a few subscriptions and let the paper claim “balance” on the op-ed page.

    In defense of George Will, he has, in the past few weeks , occasionally found some real fire when going after the Trumpenfuhrer. He’s always at least worth glancing at.

    I miss Hitch. And can you imagine how Molly Ivins would’ve dealt with Trump?

  31. I can’t help but think that David Brooks clutching his pearls over cancel culture while still managing to be employed is some kind of proof, somewhere, that cancel culture isn’t quite the thing they make it out to be. And hiding behind the “could Christopher Hitchens still get published?” bugaboo is really weird. He is gone and his voice can’t be current. But it becomes a hard point to argue past, doesn’t it? Though Brooks did a fine job of marrying his logical fallacies by begging the loaded question.

  32. Translation: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!

    Teh womens and teh brown people and them other folks over which I think I hold inherent dominance are gaining a voice!

    Worse still, shitting on them with impunity isn’t universally acceptable anymore!

    Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

    This kvetch needs to be taken out back and put to sleep.

  33. @wiredog: My happiest dreams involve Molly Ivins and George Carlin in the afterlife doing tag-team commentary on Orange Julius.

  34. Yeah, but no. One of the writers Brooks mentions is Matt Taibbi, and when those two find themselves on the same side of the argument, you know something monstrous is coming. He’s not wrong about Hitchens either. I never had much time for him, but his idea of reading the room didn’t involve giving any f***s.
    A stopped clock occasionally gets the time.

  35. Peter Card:

    Meh. I don’t think you have a particularly good read of how Hitchens would read a room, nor do you appreciate how carefully calibrated not giving a fuck can be when rent money is on the line. Not giving a fuck in a way an editor will pay for is a thing.

  36. I’ve never read Hitchens and I want to be upfront that I can’t access this particular article – but I do know that I usually can’t follow where Brooks is coming from (except that one time in 2015 when we both enjoyed a particular online article for similar reasons). Isn’t one of the reasons why he himself was able to get this far the fact that 1920s/1930s-style antisemitism has become deeply unacceptable in the American mainstream?

  37. David Brooks is the heir apparent to Tom Friedman. Soon, he will be the Chief Flathead (or has Friedman dismounted that particular hobby horse?)

  38. I liked Hitchens a lot – sometimes he was not good (when he wrote about abortion claiming that the fetus was a child because “what else could it be?”) but when he was on, he was on (and that was most of the time for me), and he was willing to put himself up for his beliefs in a way that lots of people weren’t. I am sorry that he died so soon.

    I don’t think reading the room is the problem. You can not read the room and still be great (though you might not actually make money doing it), but you have to be honest and logical – you have to make writing that someone might care about and that coheres. I don’t think a lot of the people being “cancelled” have bothered to test their work – to see if it holds up to criticism – and they don’t like being called to task for its flaws. I also wonder if they expected enough privilege to not be treated as they treat others. As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” and perhaps when someone counterattacks them instead of surrendering, they don’t know what to do other than scream, which sometimes works better than their prose.

  39. Sigh.

    Notes to Middle America:

    “Sticky Tape on Mouth” is a Neo-Nazi / Fasch trope and has been used since, well: Hitler.[0].

    It’s not cute, it’s not subtle, it’s in your face: “We know what we’re doing here”.

    Note to Middle America:

    It’s not done by accident or because “OMG, those Nazis knew a thing or two about propaganda”

    Here’s Tommy Robinson[1] doing it: https://i2.wp.com/thebfd.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Tommy-Robinson.png

    Note to Middle America:

    It’s literally a call-back. And **GASP** Jewish people use it too, for similar reasons. and the people protesting use it because they know it[2] has been used in similar contexts

    https://media.gettyimages.com/photos/african-asylum-seekers-who-entered-israel-illegally-via-egypt-wear-a-picture-id464338761?s=612×612

    David Brooks is noted for writing extremely pro-War Iraq Op-Eds, most of which have “strangely” disappeared from the internet[3].

    The only ethical dilemma here is asking how cheer-leading for 500,000 civilian deaths and not seeing the utterly nihilistic stance of ‘tape on mouth’ when there’s pictures[3] of US forces using duct-tape in rather more barbaric ways.

    Shame on you all.

    Land without Dragons… and you’re a tin-pot failing state within three years, it’s comical.

    [0] “9. For a period in the 1920’s, Hitler was forbidden to address public meetings in much of Germany, which was a major blow to the Nazi propaganda apparatus. This poster, by cartoonist Philipp Rupprecht (most known for his cartoons for Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer) is captioned: He alone of two billion people on earth may not speak in Germany.” Courtesy of Dr. Robert D. “Brooks.

    Yes, we’re very good at this: Surnames are the same, check their genealogy.

    [1] Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, employed by REBEL MEDIA, go look up who runs it, and who the editor is: spoilers – very very pro-Israel / Zionist stuff there.

    [2] https://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/002/358pyodq.asp?ZoomFont=YES

    https://www.salon.com/2015/05/19/david_brooks_sickening_iraq_apologia_how_the_new_york_times_hack_just_rewrote_history/

    [3] Oh… you didn’t see those ones. Trust me. Not NICE.

  40. Literally told you that it’s a Fascist Right-Wing trope being deployed, with references, sources and current usages, with links to current Right Wing deployment in the UK and so forth.

    Not published,

    The Irony, it burns. Scared of Libel Lawyers or want to keep the Disney Yellow Brick Road illusion still?

    Why bother?

    “Fuck around and Find Out”

    Help, Help, I Can’t Be Published!

    No, apparently, publishing true things[tm] can’t happen now. Welcome to the Zone.

    [0] Disney opened their parks fully knowing COVID19 rates in Florida were going through the roof. The Mouse don’t care about your little life.

  41. @Ken

    And W was pretty much quite literally an American prince. Can you imagine his career if his dad had been Someone Else?

    On the post — thank you, Mr. Scalzi. Bullseye.

  42. David Brooks is the reason I stopped reading the New York Times maybe 15 years ago.

    As Theophylact pointed out, Hitchens used to be on the left–I remember when he wrote for the Nation. His support for the Iraq war was a disappointment to me.

    What that says, though, is that the man changed with the times. I have no doubt he would have kept changing.

  43. To me “not reading a room,” whether by a national writer or a local nerd at a sci fi convention, is rude.

    For my fellow nerds, if you join a small group having a chat, then listen before you hijack the conversation. Listen to find out the topic, obviously, but also to sense the pace, energy and tone. This applies even if the group is merely making jokes without a topic. The best joke of a professional comedian will fall flat if you haven’t listened first to match the group.

    A Chinese proverb: When you go outdoors, look at the weather, when you go indoors, look at the faces.

    If crowd of faces shows that something liberal matters, I switch to my respect gear.

  44. I think the lede has been buried here.

    What this is actually all about is Twitter, and what has emerged from such a platform. God help me, I know what it is and I still read it. But there is something undeniably rotten at its heart.

    In part (I’m not sure how much), Twitter gave us Donald Trump. And that’s reason enough to wish it consigned to oblivion.

  45. A non-fiction writer friend of a friend complained, often, during Bush’s second term that he couldn’t get published because his flavor of Southern Liberalism wasn’t welcome in a Republican-majority country. When my friend mentioned this, my response was, “He’s completely wrong, because NOW is exactly the time at least half the country wants to hear what he’s got to say!” I suggested he start a blog or a podcast and either use ads, sell his previous books, or ask for donations (this was pre-Patreon). Soon enough, he’d start getting magazine or newspapers gigs if he let people know he was out there….

    He ended up ghostwriting a couple books until Obama became President.

  46. People whining that they’re being “cancelled” annoy me. They’re not being silenced. They’re being repudiated. Those are two different things.

    Also “I can’t be published”? Please. As someone who’s kicked around various forms of publishing for a while, I am playing a violin so small you can’t see it.

  47. I found Hitchens annoying, pretentious, snobby, and subtly but definitely prejudiced against anyone who wasn’t a straight white upper-class and preferably British male. He could write, yes, but so can Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I haven’t noticed *him* whining about not being able to get into print.

  48. I was never favorably impressed by Hitchens; even when I agreed with him my feeling was more like, “In this case ONLY, racist uncle has a point.” As an atheist I found him embarrassing. I have no urge to convert, much less bully or shame, others to my point of view. I don’t ascribe to the idea that telling people they are STUPID! ever more loudly will have a salutary effect. A lot of his coworkers seemed to like him, but my impression is that this was because they found him charming and admired his turn of phrase, which is quite different from finding him persuasive.

    He seems to get more credit as a polemicist than as a thinker. I’d rather be remembered as the second. “He made me think” seems to me a better memorial than “He won the argument.” I’m good at verbal bullying, but try to be better. It is a character defect rather than a source of pride.

    John, on the other hand, I’d read on a BBS or old style mailing list (I’m old, early ARPANET and Compuserve accounts (took me a minute to think of Compuserve, I’m old)). He does not claim authority and does not try to support his ideas and opinions (surprise! Different things!) with babble about the thrust of Western philosophy and intellectual tradition. He just speaks, AND LISTENS. And is willing to publicly find his way, rather than demand others do as he says.

    Hitchens, to me, was more pissy and entitled than thoughtful.

    And I find Brooks thoughtless and reactionary. And boring. I get the Times (though less happily as time passes) and rarely find him worth the time.

    And John, you can surely take both the Interdependency and Old Man’s war universes farther, Or feed my jones with something new….

  49. Given the forum on which these comments are appearing, I am surprised that no one has chosen to provide a rather obvious example of how writers can and will change with their market – Robert A. Heinlein. I am 80 years old, and Heinlein’s juvenile series of books was among my first exposure to non-trivial literature, starting with “Rocker Ship Galileo” in (I think) 1947.

    Within a couple of years I was not only eagerly waiting for each new Heinlein juvenile to be published, but reading his adult material, and the works of Asimov, Clarke, Clement, and others. I clearly remember the obvious shift in his writing when “Stranger In A Strange Land” appeared, and having lived through that era I can assure you that it was in response to a shift in cultural norms. Note that Heinlein sold very, very well over a period of roughly 50 years, and there was a LOT of change in society between the late 30s and his death in 1988.

    No one should be surprised by this. I recall reading an interview with Heinlein 40+ years ago in which he said (as accurately as I can remember it):

    “I am not trying to write great literature. Essentially every basic plot that people are using can be traced back to the Greeks 2000 years ago. I am trying to write interesting and enjoyable stories that are appealing enough that when someone is faced with a choice of whether to buy one of my books or to go down the street to have a beer, they will buy my book.”

    – Tom –

  50. Ahahaha, you’re telling on yourself. Some people have principles that are more important to them than pandering to their anti-intellectual, proto-fascist friends on social media.

    Did Hitchens write to an audience? Of course, but that’s a truism (and didn’t require 1000 words to say). But in general, he sought to challenge his audience, rather than carefully calibrating his work to flatter their pre-existing worldview. That’s the difference.

  51. I may be a bit late to this party, but David Brooks has one job, to tell the billionaires and millionaires who read the NYT that no matter what the Republicans have done recently, both sides are to blame and that college liberal speech codes are probably to blame.

    There’s also the 2 Beltway Iron Rules of David Brooks, it is mandatory to quote what David Brooks has written this week, and it is forbidden to qoute what David Brooks wrote last week.

  52. I would take the logic back even further – the willingness to offend people doesn’t necessarily block a writer’s publishability – the whole premise is flawed (ah well, it is Brooks). To wit: one need only to look at the NY Times editorial page to find blatant evidence of that – the Tom Cotton editorial comes to mind (don’t mistake me, I don’t mean to say that should or should not have been published – but it was – and many found it offensive – and surely the editorial board knew that). As for David Brooks – well, the paper his ink dripping are printed is recycled every two weeks at my house – so there it’s not a total loss to humanity and the planet…

  53. For my fellow nerds, if you join a small group having a chat, then listen before you hijack the conversation. Listen to find out the topic, obviously, but also to sense the pace, energy and tone

    Yeah. Tell me how that works out.

  54. It’s fun to speculate what Barbara Ehrenreich, Molly Ivins, and yes, Hitch, were they still alive and at the height of their powers, might make of the current situation. How they’d deploy Twitter. How they’d curl their lip over phrases such as “talking points.” What they’d think of gutless commentators who, instead of vigorously defending a position, whine at not being taken at their word.

    At his best, Hitch was an original thinker who didn’t give a toss what anyone else thought. He argued from his evidence to his conclusions. He employed facts, logic, intellectual rigor and wit. In short, he was everything that David Brooks (based on this sample) is not.